• Paul Chihara
  • Concerto for String Quartet (“Kisses Sweeter than Wine”) (1980)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • 0000/4230/timp.perc/[hca]/str
  • 2(pic).021/2220/timp.2perc/[hca]/str
  • String Quartet
  • 23 min

Programme Note

Composer Note:

Seiji Ozawa, Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Sequoia String Quartet originally commissioned the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra in 1980. I completed a version of the work, based on the folk song Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, which was premiered by Ozawa, the Sequoia Strong Quartet and the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo in 1985. (The original melody is from an Irish folk song “about a dead old cow.” The familiar lyrics were later added in the well-known 1951 recording by Pete Seeger and the Weavers.) At that time, the Concerto was in three movements (slow-fast-slow), and Maestro Ozawa asked me to add a brilliant fourth movement as a finale, which I worked on for the next few years. After extensive rewritings of the first three movements and the addition of the finale, I completed the four-movement Concerto in 1992, but by then the Sequoia String Quartet had disbanded and the work remained unperformed. Nevertheless, I have always loved this Concerto and the haunting folk song on which it is based, and over the next few years I made further revisions and improvements, especially with respect to its orchestration and internal balances between the four soloists and the orchestra. The original instrumentation featured strings with a large brass section and no woodwinds. I have subsequently recast this orchestration into the more traditional instrumental choirs, which balances more compatibly with the string quartet and the solo harmonica. The resultant orchestration has a lighter texture and a more romantic sonority. In 1998, I met the Arcata String Quartet at the Chautauqua [New York] Festival, and immediately felt a musical bond between them and this Concerto. I am pleased that they will be giving the world premiere of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine with the Utah Symphony Orchestra.

—Paul Chihara